LAS VEGAS | For 12 years, Mayor Oscar Goodman has been a flamboyant constant in a city where aging headliners and iconic casinos are routinely replaced to make way for the next big thing. But Las Vegas voters will find his name missing from Tuesday's primary election ballot.
After three terms and countless martinis, the self-proclaimed "happiest mayor in the world" is term-limited. Eighteen hopefuls are vying to succeed him.
In a strong signal that the city's political life might not be changing that much, however, the front-runner is Mr. Goodman's wife, Carolyn.
In an election that in many ways has become about who has the outlandish personality, popularity and negotiating skills to succeed Las Vegas' ultimate showman, Mr. Goodman wants his legacy continued with the mother of his four children.
Mrs. Goodman, who for years has attended public events alongside her husband and his regular entourage of feather-draped showgirls, is somewhat of a celebrity, too. She founded a local school attended by the children of casino owners and other Sin City luminaries and shares his same acid wit. She has raised more cash than any other candidate in the field.
Mr. Goodman has all but handed her the keys to City Hall.
"It's hers to lose," said Jan Jones, a Caesars Entertainment Inc. executive who preceded Mr. Goodman as mayor. "Carolyn has strong name identification. She is a powerful figure in her right."
Among the crowded crew of candidates trying to best her, or more likely finish second and force a runoff, is an affluent Frenchman who kisses female voters on the hand, a tequila maker and a handful of elected officials with strong policy pedigrees but none the Goodman showmanship. They argue Las Vegas needs a serious leader to pull it up from its hardest stumble yet. Nevada tops the nation in unemployment, and the Las Vegas casinos that have long carried the state's limited economy are hurting in this era of thrifty tourists.
"He has been continuing with his gin and girls when people are losing their jobs and houses," said Victor Chaltiel, a French venture capitalist who has pumped more than $1 million of his own money into his campaign to replace Mr. Goodman. "It would have been appropriate to say, 'This was fun, but it's now time to get to business.'"
Mr. Goodman is the first person to admit he would be mayor for life if the law allowed it.
The former mob lawyer who ran for office in 1999 despite questions about his lawless friends has transformed what was once a do-nothing City Council position into one of the most powerful posts in Nevada.
"Whoever the mayor is, they are going to have their work cut out for them," Mr. Goodman said. "If anyone tries to copy me, they will fall right on their face."